Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday requested voters in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley to give the BJP a chance and drew on the army indicting nine soldiers for the Budgam shooting to illustrate his intentions to create peace and development in the strife-torn state.
He gave credit to his government for the indictment of soldiers involved in the death of a youth after they fired at a car during a routine check in Budgam on November 3.
The PM said at his maiden poll rally in Srinagar “it was Modi sarkar ka kamaal (his government’s feat)” that the army had accepted its mistake for the first time in 30 years.
Modi invoked Atal Bihari Vajpayee to share the pain of Kashmiris but avoided any mention of niggling topics such as removal of Article 370 that guarantees the state a unique status, nor did he launch a tirade against Pakistan even in the backdrop of militants stepping up violence that killed 20 people on Friday.
He told a sizeable audience at Sher-i-Kashmir cricket stadium, where Vajpayee had addressed thousands of Kashmiris in 2003, to throw out dynastic politics from the state.
“What have you seen in Kashmir over the past 30 years? Either it was a Congress government or a father-son (National Conference) government or a father-daughter (Peoples Democratic Party) government. You have seen all three types of government. Get rid of all three of them for once and give me one chance to serve you,” said the PM clad in a traditional Kashmiri pheran (cloak).
At his second rally of the day in Samba, after his first stop in Jammu, Modi applauded the people for the high voter turnout in the first two poll phases despite separatists calling a boycott to the democratic process. “The finger on an EVM is more powerful than the one on the trigger of an AK-47.”
He said the time has come to make a misled youth wielding an AK-47 rifle yearn for an android phone rather than a gun in his hand.
In Jammu, wearing a Dogri headgear he touched a raw nerve when he laced his speech with Hindu-majority region’s pet peeve that Srinagar seldom cares for it.
The feeling of discrimination with the Jammu region has strong takers in 19 of 23 seats going to polls in the last two phases. The BJP’s attempt to wrest power in the state hinges on these seats.
But the Srinagar rally was his showpiece as he pledged to carry forward Vajpayee’s dream for Jammu and Kashmir but chose not to go into detail about his stand on dialogue with separatists and Pakistan that the former PM had initiated.
He said the biggest problem the state is saddled with is corruption because the Rs 2500 crore released for relief and rehabilitation after this year’s devastating floods in Srinagar and other parts of the state didn’t reach those who needed it the most. “People told me to transfer funds directly to their accounts and not through the state government.
It shows how much faith people have in their government,” he said, taking potshot at chief minister Omar Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) government.
The Congress termed Modi's rally unimpressive, while the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling NC accused the Prime Minister of playing politics with flood victims.
"The BJP government in New Delhi has discriminated against the flood victims in Kashmir for political reasons and has made them suffer so that they could be exploited for political dividends," chief minister Abdullah alleged in his speech during poll rallies in south Kashmir's Anantnag district.
"Till today, New Delhi has not taken a call on the relief and rehabilitation package submitted by the state government."
Referring to the Prime Minister's relief package, PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed said, "By harping on the meagre Rs 1,000-crore package, we are only compromising the dignity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are not seeking any doles but want to be treated at par with the citizens of any other part of the country."
J-K Pradesh Congress Committee chief Saifuddin Soz said, "After a great fanfare, Modi's rally turned out to be highly unimpressive, with reports of 2,500 people turning up."
(With inputs from Vikram Sharma in Samba)